Cyber everything

We had some fun last week running through the bits and pieces of Cyberlink’s new “DVD Solution 4” for Windows. You’re gonna love the bit that lets you use a DVD as if it were just a big floppy disk.

It’s called PowerToGo. This puts an image of four stacked cubes, like dice, on the screen. They’re labeled Data, Music, Video and Copy. Drag whatever you want to write to the DVD over to the proper cube and off it goes. If you use rewritable DVDs, you can erase files and burn new ones, just like using a floppy, only now it’s a 4GB floppy.

Then we tried CyberLink’s Power DVD, which is made to order for watching movies on the computer. To back up a little, Windows has its own free Media Player for watching movies. So we took a rental DVD from Blockbuster and ran it with each of the programs. The picture was considerably brighter and sharper with the CyberLink utility.

The Media Show section lets you create slide shows with music. There are dozens of programs that can do this, so we’re bringing this up because it touches on another common problem, which is converting files to from one format to another. Media Show expected our music files to be in MP3, WAV, MID or CDA format. Ours happened to be in WMA format. Fortunately, the program had a built in converter. If you run into a similar problem and don’t have CyberLink 4, you can find and download file coverters at

The regular version of DVD Solution 4 lists for $60. But if you buy the $100 deluxe version you also get Power Director Express a video editor. The Magic Clean function immediately brightens the picture and improves the sound.

Finally, Power Backup does just what you would think. It comes as part of the suite or as a stand-alone for $40. Either way, it is easy to use and includes a “restore” button to bring back whatever you saved. The stand-alone version, however, goes further. It creates an executable file on a CD or DVD that contains your backup files. You can then restore those files to a drive on another computer, even if you don’t have a backup program installed.

We didn’t cover absolutely everything here, so you can get still more information at

The need to defrag

Years ago, a reporter we knew posted a list of basic human needs on a bulletin board in the city room. They were just as you expected: food, shelter, family, the usual. To this we would occasionally add other basic human needs: the need to appear cool, the need to give advice, the need to change someone else’s copy, etc. Today we suggest another one: the need to defrag one’s hard drive.

Joe Kinsella, a security software expert writing in the ever-popular Windows IT Professional, says that retrieving 10 web pages took 37 seconds on a highly fragmented PC, but only 10 seconds after defragmenting the hard drive. Aha!

You can defrag your own hard drive using Windows’ built-in defragger. Go to the Start menu, then Programs, Accessories, System Tools and finally Disk Defragmenter. Or you can try the more thorough Diskeeper 9 defragger, which costs US$50 at The Web site offers a free trial, however.

Utilities: Cut it and dump it

Are you troubled by little bits of digital flotsam and jetsam left behind after you delete a program? We are. So we queried the master of itty-bitty utilities, Steve Bass, a writer at PC World magazine, and he responded with this: Nail that flotsam; kill that jetsam.

Internuts — Here’s a map full of housing information and the pushpins to get you there. Click on a pushpin location and you get four options: places for rent, for sale, sublets, and rooms. Click one of these and get a ton of listings off to the right, all with more pushpins to push. Many individual listings have photos, e-mail and Web links. Most listings are for eastern and western U.S., but London was recently added as well. Tomorrow, the world! — This was developed by marathon runners Sue and Paul, who wanted to know exactly how far they were going on their training runs. You click a starting point on the map and draw a line that traces the route. For instance, starting at the North Avenue Beach in Chicago and keeping to the edge of the lake up to the Drake Hotel is a wee bit under a mile.

Mystery Train

For the first time ever, Nancy Drew teams up with the Hardy Boys to solve the mystery of “Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon,” $20 for the PC, Moving from car to car in the train is fun and surprisingly realistic. The Hardy Boys have almost nothing to do with the investigation, though; it’s all about Nancy Drew.

Books: Crunch those numbers

Hey, spreadsheet fans, this one’s for you: “Favorite Excel Tips & Tricks,” by John Walkenbach; $40 from Over 300 million people use Excel, but they’re not necessarily good at it. If you’ve ever needed to tweak a “pivot table” or tame an “automatic toolbar,” you will find the way here.

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